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"The planned cultural events will not only attract external visitors, but will also contribute to a revitalization of everyday life"

An interview with Prof. Dr. Henning Laux about the development opportunities for the city of Chemnitz through the Capital of Culture title and why the city and university can benefit from it in the long term

Professor Dr. Henning Laux, holder of the professorship of sociological theory at Chemnitz University of Technology, followed the application process of the city of Chemnitz and analyzed the chances for TV (German) and newspaper (German). He had already expressed his confidence in the success of the application in the run-up to the event and had given Chemnitz the best chances next to Hanover.

In the interview, Laux talks about what this success means for the development of the city, the university and the region, why Chemnitz does not have to hide behind Dresden and Leipzig, and which program points he is most looking forward to.

How did you hear about this success for Chemnitz?

I watched the final decision in the livestream.

Did the selection come as a surprise to you?

From my point of view, Chemnitz was definitely a kind of secret favorite for the title in the run-up to the event. But that it actually worked out in the end was a positive surprise for me, too.

What do you think tipped the scales?

The down-to-earth, problem-oriented, and creative application. And the exciting history of the city with its many turning points and upheavals.

Now millions of euros in funding (German) will flow to Chemnitz, 20 million from the Free State of Saxony alone. What does that mean for the city and the region?

If the money is invested in meaningful projects and events on site, not only the public image of the city but also social cohesion can be sustainably enhanced. The material infrastructures are intact, and the aim must be to enrich the city with creative ideas and young people in the coming years. If this is successful, the entire region will benefit.

In forecasts based on the experience of previous Capitals of Culture, up to two million visitors are expected to visit Chemnitz in the Capital of Culture year. Is the city ready for this?

The huge streets, squares and buildings of the socialist model city have been waiting for larger streams of visitors for years. For the development of the city, the title can only be good, the planned cultural events will not only attract external visitors, but also contribute to a revitalization of everyday life. A serious obstacle for guests from home and abroad remains the still missing connection to long-distance traffic.

The Chemnitz mentality is sometimes regarded as bulky and reserved. Probably also against the background of a diffuse feeling of being in the shadow of Dresden and Leipzig. Will the title change that?

Some people in Chemnitz will rub their eyes in amazement that Chemnitz will be named European Capital of Culture. However, sociological studies have shown that mentalities are sluggish, our constitutive convictions and world attitudes change only very slowly. Nevertheless, the title will create a certain spirit of optimism, especially among the younger generation, I am sure.
 
What projects that were carried out as part of the second Bid Book are you most looking forward to?

I'm curious about the garage studios and the associated idea of using supposed junk to make undiscovered or forgotten stories from the past of the people of Chemnitz visible. I am looking forward to the international peace conference "Build Peace" in 2022, where people from all continents will come to Chemnitz to search for solutions to the local distortions of global developments.

Finally, of central importance is the European Workshop of Culture and Democracy, at which artists and social scientists are to explore new ways to counteract the normalization of right-wing extremist structures and positions together with civil society.

Chemnitz will experience great international visibility. Will this also have an impact on the university?

The members of the university should use this event as an opportunity to become even more actively involved in the cultural and political life of the city. If this is successful, many fruitful collaborations can be established by 2025 and beyond, which will benefit the university. However, this is not automatic, but will only work if a mutual interest in intensified cooperation is signaled and lived. This is where the expertise and commitment of the humanities and social sciences is particularly needed.

What opportunities for research projects will arise as a result of the Capital of Culture application such as in European studies and urban social development?

Chemnitz has scored points in its application for the European Capital of Culture with two moves in terms of content: firstly, with its offensive self-description as an Eastern European city in Western Europe. However, the application made it clear that there is still considerable potential for development in terms of cultural exchange with the Eastern European neighbors. In this context, the research question for the European Studies at Chemnitz University of Technology is why this is so and how this gap can be overcome. The sociological and political science research question arises as a mirror image of the significance of the Eastern European and East German identity of the former Karl-Marx-Stadt for the long process of German reunification.

On the other hand, the right-wing marches of 2018 were mercilessly described in the application documents as a turning point in the history of Chemnitz. This awareness of the problem was expressly praised by the jury. If the city is at a turning point, in the coming years it will be necessary to investigate how right-wing forces were able to close ranks in the first place and how the structures and ideas of normality that have become visible in the process can be effectively interrupted.

The historically grown tendency of many Chemnitzers to depoliticize coexistence has led to the paradoxical result that the city has largely surrendered itself to being appropriated by certain groups. This is at least one of the central findings of a monograph I am currently writing with my colleagues.

It will be correspondingly important to evaluate the various events and formats of the Capital of Culture application to see to what extent they succeed in actively involving the "silent center" of urban society.

(Author: Matthias Fejes / Translation: Chelsea Burris)

Matthias Fejes
30.10.2020

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